A/N: More Asuma screen time and Kakashi's POV in this chapter. Also, a huuuge shift in tone. I'm curious as to your thoughts on Kazeko's relationship with him (and her schoolgirl crush, haha). You'll get to know their back-story in another chapter.
And before you even ask, no, there will not be a love triangle. This fic is not like shoujo. This is more along the lines of a combination of seinen and josei. I'm pretty resolute that the rating will go up to M in future chapters but it will remain as T for now.
of a Wilful Drunken Fist
"I have to apologise to Ibiki-kun," Takara sighed.
Kazeko almost gagged at the title she used for her brother before regaining her composure.
"Hey, are you—?"
Before she could continue, Takara gave her a stern look that pierced daggers straight through the fibres of her inner soul, instantly shutting her up.
Can she read minds? So scary…
"My name is Nekokawa Takara. I have only recently come to Konoha and I specialise in mind penetration," she formally briefed. "As such, I am useful in regards to acquiring information and am naturally in the interrogation force."
Ah, so that was how she knew Ibiki. Kazeko figured they were dating and just wanted to keep it under wraps but she could not figure out for the life of her why Ibiki had to send Takara as a cat to her. There had to be more to her presence than merely being Ibiki's girlfriend. This situation was just too bizarre for her to fully comprehend.
"That is classified."
Kazeko raised an eyebrow. "Why did Ibiki ask me to take care of you?"
"That is also classified," said Takara in a singsong manner.
Although she was incredibly confused and frustrated, she knew not to inquire further, having had experience with Zuru being in ANBU. Still, she could not help but suspect that something deeper was going on and somehow, she was involved… Kazeko frowned in apprehension.
She would just have to wait for things to unfold.
Takara fiddled with a strand of her snowy hair and Kazeko noticed its stark contrast to her own jet black locks.
"So," the mind reader continued. "I'm assuming that taking care of a cat the next time you go on a mission would be troublesome to you. It's almost been a week since you've last accepted one. Are you taking a break or something?"
"Err, yeah… something like that…" Kazeko mumbled, subconsciously reaching over her shoulder to touch her newest scar.
Takara narrowed her eyes. "Well, you'd better get on with it," In an instant, her previously confident demeanour shattered and was replaced by a look of slight embarrassment. "Erm, also, by any chance… do you have any milk?"
She held the cigarette in-between her lips and leaned in towards Asuma's offered light. Breathing in a miasma of smoke, she let it pool in her throat to savour the taste of tobacco before exhaling again. Kazeko never allowed for it to become a habit but she found that a smoke and a nice chat between friends calmed her nerves during stressful times.
"You're a bad influence on me," she said, smiling.
Asuma chuckled and lit up a cancer stick of his own. "So, what's got you to turn up at my place and ask for a smoke all of a sudden?"
"Oh, you know, the usual," the kunoichi drawled wryly, collapsing onto the couch from her sitting position. "My brother's cat turned out to be human and I suspect that I'm somehow involved in this mysterious, dark plot that nobody cared to inform me about."
The cigarette dangled loosely from her fingers. She took another puff.
Asuma stared at her incredulously. "What the hell?"
"Yeah, my reaction exactly," she muttered, looking at him upside-down from her lying position. "Apparently, the little kitty's in the T&I force with Ibiki and can literally read minds… an invasion of privacy, more like."
"They're obviously fucking each other," he said bluntly.
"No shit," Kazeko snorted, taking a particularly long drag from her cigarette after sitting up again. "But yeah, she answered all of my questions with this bullshit, 'That's classified,'" she mimicked Takara in a high-pitched voice, tapping ashes onto a cigarette tray on the coffee table.
"Huh. Pretty intriguing."
The apartment air was filled with the heady smell of tobacco smoke. Kazeko stubbed out her cigarette which had already reached the filter and sighed, hugging her knees.
"Hey, Asuma..." she murmured, head bowed. "Do you ever wonder if it's worth it all? Being a shinobi?"
It was a question that had bothered her for some time now. It was what Kazeko would ask herself while she lay awake on sleepless nights while tracing the numerous scars on her stomach, the faint lines that would mar her for life. One of the many sacrifices made to serve her country. She would think about Higure-sensei and smell his aftershave, hear his laugh. She would try to imagine the look on his face in the exact moment when he was killed in action, leaving behind a wife, his family and them… what was the point of it all?
"Yes," Asuma answered solemnly. "But then I remember something the old man told me… everyone has a 'King' to protect. It's a shogi metaphor."
Kazeko quirked a smile. "Who's your King?"
"I haven't figured that out yet," he confessed, snuffing out his cigarette. "I guess one should typically say Konoha but… there's more to it than that."
A silence followed as guilt pitted itself in her stomach.
"I'd say that my King would be my friends and family," she said slowly. "Right now, I'd be willing to trade several innocent lives for the single life of Higure-sensei. That must make me a horrible shinobi."
Kazeko trailed off in a whisper and buried her face in her hands, body shaking from suppressing the sobs that rose up in her throat.
"No. That just makes you human."
She looked up at Asuma, tears running freely down her cheeks. "He didn't have to die," she choked out. "He shouldn't have left us all behind…"
Seeing her break down, he tentatively wound an arm around her shoulders and she clung onto him, crying into his shirt.
They stayed in the same position for a while, with Asuma consolingly stroking her hair, wordless as Kazeko held onto him like a lifeline.
"You've got a different type of Will," he said. "The Will to keep going, to protect the ones you love. The Will of Wind, I guess."
She laughed at the punning of her name and nature transformation affinity, wiping away her last stray tears. "I was born into the wrong village. Should've been a Suna kunoichi."
"Yeah," Asuma grinned. "If you enjoy getting sand up your—"
"I can think of two ways in which you can finish that sentence and I don't want to think about either of them." With a watery smile tugging on the corners of her mouth, Kazeko hid her face in his tear-stained shirt and mumbled, "I missed you like a bitch when you left."
She was talking about his dispute with his father which led to his joining of the Twelve Guardian Ninja. When he thought that the Fire Daimyo was his King over his father, the Hokage. When he left Konoha behind.
"Promise that you won't ever die on me," she stared him in the eye vehemently.
"You know that I can't—"
"Just do it. Please."
Sighing and gently squeezing her hand, Asuma said, "I promise."
Kakashi was lying on his bed—still fully clothed and with no box of tissues in convenient reach—peacefully reading his gifted copy of Icha Icha Paradise when he heard a violent crash next door, followed by gratuitous cursing. Rolling his eyes, he continued to dig into the delicious dialogue that the orange novel presented him with, only to be disturbed by the sounds of what seemed to be an enraged scream before the smashing of glass.
Now slightly disconcerted, the Copy Ninja pocketed his book and went outside to Kazeko's door. Before knocking, he hesitated, not knowing what he was getting himself into. It had been a long day. He'd had a briefing which lasted for four hours due to the Sandaime being an anal-retentive old geezer which only furthered Kakashi's consideration of hanging up his ANBU mask and calling it a quits for a lifetime.
Despite his behaviour and outward appearance, Kakashi did possess the decency to be concerned for his neighbour's welfare. He knocked on the door.
"Is everything alright in there?" he asked.
The door immediately swung open and Kakashi was met with Kazeko's bleary-eyed face.
"Hatake-san," she slurred, using a bloodied hand to support herself. "What a freakin' surprise."
It was clear that Kazeko was inebriated as she precariously swayed and slumped further downwards on the doorframe. The unpleasant reeking of alcohol reached Kakashi's nostrils and he grimaced. It was only two in the afternoon, for god's sake and she was drunk at this early hour?
"What, this?" She held up a mangled hand that contained glass shards embedded in its flesh. "This ain't nothin' but a tiny little scratch."
"Do you have any tweezers?"
Kazeko blinked slowly, processing his question in what must have been a very impaired mind of hers before turning to retrieve a pair of them.
Avoiding the broken glass on the floor, Kakashi stepped into her apartment and surveyed the place. It was in the exact same format as his own studio apartment, albeit her interior decor consisted of a lot more personal photographs adorning the walls and cutesy strings of paper lanterns and fairy lights that were hung unevenly across the ceiling.
Kazeko returned with her pair of tweezers, holding them out to him while Kakashi directed her towards the dining table and sat her down. He found a rubbish bin in the kitchen area and placed it next to their chairs. Grabbing a fistful of tissues and placing them under a running tap, he cleaned the excess blood before going to work on her hand.
"Why're you here?" the kunoichi mumbled, not even flinching as a shard of glass was being pulled out of her flesh.
Kakashi deduced that the alcohol numbed her to the pain but that did not deter him from removing the foreign objects as gently and carefully as possible to avoid any further damage.
"I heard something break and was concerned," he said. "So I went to check up on you and then I find you in no proper state to remove the pieces of glass stuck in your hand. I've got some sense of decency, you know."
Dropping the glass in the bin, he took Kazeko's hand to steady it before settling the tweezers around another stray piece.
She looked away. "I held my glass too hard."
Kakashi didn't press further. They sat in silence until he had removed all traces of glass from her hand.
"Mystical palm technique," the underside of his hand illuminated with green, healing Kazeko's wounds.
"Thanks," she said, clenching and unclenching before wriggling her fingers to test her hand.
Wobbily standing up, Kazeko began to head for the front door.
He grabbed her arm. "What do you think you're doing?"
The Copy Nin wondered how the hell she made jounin with her utter recklessness. He also wondered what the hell possessed him to come over here and why the hell he should even care about his idiot of a neighbour.
She roughly shook away his grasp and growled. "I promised to see Kitsune today."
Kazeko disappeared in a whirlwind of leaves and Kakashi swore. He simply could not leave a drunken, idiotic jounin to wander out into public and possibly besmirch the reputation of shinobi. Body flickering after her, he reached the marketplace close to their apartment complex. The everyday mood was disturbed by the sounds of civilians' cries and heated combat of which none other than Morino Kazeko had managed to get herself tangled up in.
It was two against one but she was holding her own incredibly well, especially under the effects of alcohol. It hardly seemed to be affecting her fighting ability as she swiftly dodged a fist aimed at her face. In a blur, Kakashi could just visibly catch her hand movements forming a series of seals before landing a blow with an open hand on her opponent's arm and agilely kicking the other attacker in the chest.
Gashes tore open in the areas where Kazeko had struck, making both perpetrators roar in pain as blood spurted from their wounds. Kakashi's eyes widened.
She was exerting wind chakra from her attacks, utilising her limbs as figurative blades. It was clear to him that this kunoichi had mastered wind release to such a degree that she could effectively channel wind chakra without the aid of a physical weapon.
It was over all too frighteningly quickly.
The men were screaming now, clutching at their heads as they fell to the ground, blood running down their nostrils before their bodies began to convulse. Onlookers gasped in horror at the gruesome sight and Kazeko merely gaped, shocked into motionlessness. The shuddering soon stilled and the bodies lay lifeless, devoid of any chakra signals which seemed to be so casually snuffed out.
The shinobi cautiously approached the kunoichi. She stared at him with a numbness that was carpeted over her expression and with glassy eyes, uncertain of the appropriate emotional response to her current situation. Kakashi was sure that he wore the same face underneath his mask.
"I didn't do it. They just suddenly… died."
Kazeko doubled over and vomited.
"Shit," she gasped, straightening up. "I'm gonna have one hell of a hangover."
"Are you even of age?"
"Less than a year off. 'Sif anybody cares, anyway. 'Specially since I'm jounin."
"You're in no state to see the Hokage," he said, cringing as he watched her suppress the urge to retch again.
"Dammit!" Kazeko cursed. "What a freakin' mess on my hands."
It certainly was. Kakashi was incredibly suspicious of what had just occurred. Judging by the way they were terminated, it suggested something neurological as the cause of death. Were they being controlled by a jutsu?
But the main question remained: Why and who was targeting Kazeko? What exactly was she involved in?
Kakashi now looked at the drunken and nauseated kunoichi in front of him in a different light. She was a capable fighter but he had yet to see her up against other shinobi. He had misjudged her abilities, although his impression of her character was of slight disapproval. While he didn't know if Kazeko drank often, it was a negative habit to possess and the shinobi wondered if her actions had any relevance to her sensei's death. Kakashi had looked up Karasuno Higure and found out that he was killed in action during a mission that had gone awry two months ago.
His train of thought was interrupted by a pair of ANBU agents.
"Hatake-san," the bear-masked figure greeted him.
A bird-masked nodded at him in acknowledgement of him as an ANBU leader and Kakashi returned the nod.
"We will retrieve the bodies for autopsy," the officer turned to Kazeko. "You must immediately report to the Hokage to be questioned."
They both lifted up the bodies and body flickered away in puffs of smoke. Soon thereafter, the commotion dispersed and Kakashi was left standing with Kazeko in the middle of the street.
She groaned. "I am so fucked."
An idea formed in the Copy Nin's mind. His simple solution would work if Kazeko could remain sufficiently composed in front of the Hokage.
"Wait here," he said.
Racing back to his apartment, Kakashi rummaged through his drawer to find deodorant before filling up a canteen at the kitchen sink. Returning to Kazeko, he thoroughly sprayed her with the aerosol can, eliciting surprised yelps from the assaulted kunoichi.
"Keep yourself hydrated," Kakashi handed her the water container. "and try to appear completely sober when you're talking to the Hokage. You should be fine that way."
"Thank you," she said, blinking owlishly. "Even if you've made me smell like a dude."
They began to make their way towards the Hokage Tower with Kazeko taking long swigs from the canteen. Kakashi took out Icha Icha Paradise and began reading.
"Hatake-san!" she exclaimed. "How the hell can you read that in public?!"
He simply shrugged in response.
"Which part are you up to?"
"I've already finished it," he said. "This is my second time reading."
"Wait, you're reading it again? That close after you've already finished it once? You're totally obsessed."
Kakashi defended himself. "Hey, it's a good book."
"You're such a pervert."
"I guess that makes you a hypocrite, then."
"I'm not the one reading that shit in public!" Kazeko cried before her features softened. "But… I'm glad that you enjoy it so much."
She smiled at him and he thanked her once again for gifting him the orange novel.
Kakashi placed the book back in his pocket upon reaching the Hokage Tower.
"Remember," he said. "Act sober."
"I'm sobering up, anyway."
They walked past the guards manning the front entrance and into the red domed building. Taking the elevator up to the highest floor, they were met with a curved corridor and a closed door guarded by two ANBU. The guards opened the door to the Hokage's office for them or more likely for Kakashi, out of respect for him as an ANBU squad leader.
"Hatake-san," the agents addressed him in the same way the previous bear-masked ANBU member had.
Kazeko looked at him with a raised eyebrow before entering the office.
The Sandaime sat behind his desk, the vision of an aged shinobi who had seen and experienced far too much for one lifetime. Takara stood up from her chair in the room and turned to face them when she noticed their arrival.
"Hokage-sama," they bowed.
Kazeko spoke first, addressing Takara. "I knew that something was up when you revealed yourself."
She sighed. "You should sit down and prepare yourself for a very long explanation," the cat woman turned to the Sandaime again. "Is Hatake-san allowed to be here?"
"That depends on his choice regarding his own involvement in this matter," the Hokage focused on Kakashi. "Although I will forewarn you that if you do choose to concern yourself with our current situation, you must be prepared for disturbances in your daily life."
All occupants in the room stared expectantly at him, waiting for his answer. The curiosity of not knowing what was going on with Kazeko would agonisingly gnaw at him if he refused to participate in what he guessed would be a long-term mission. He wouldn't doubt that she would be ambushed again and that he'd inevitably be dragged into it if he were to continue to associate himself with the kunoichi. The pay would be pretty good, too.
Confirming his decision, Kakashi said, "I will be prepared."
The Sandaime took a puff from his pipe and smiled. "You both better be seated, then."
A/N: The legal drinking age in Japan is 20, by the way.